Despite Losses, Golden State Still the Team to Beat

Ken Cross

March 01, 2019 at 12:56 pm.

Feb 28, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives to the basket as Orlando Magic guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 28, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives to the basket as Orlando Magic guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

February and March can be the most trying months on NBA teams as they gear up for playoff runs.

Players are tiring both mentally and physically, but the games take on even more importance as those final three seeds in each conference are generally at stake and the movement from first to fifth can fluctuate in just one night.

Even the Golden State Warriors, who have won the world championship in three of the last four years, are in a tightly contested Western Conference race for first place with the Denver Nuggets.

The thing about the Warriors is that it doesn’t matter what seed they are because when the playoffs open, this behemoth team generally chews up and spits out anyone and everyone who might try to stand in their way of challenging for consideration as the greatest dynasty in the history of the NBA.

With Kevin Durant out on Thursday night in rest mode and an injury to Andre Iguodala, the Warriors proved once again that the sum of all parts is greater than any one player when the playoffs begin the second week of April.

We live in an era where rest is a key factor in getting teams ready for the playoff run as was the case with Durant on Thursday. He had started all 61 of the Warriors games and averaged 35.5 minutes per night before missing Thursday.

“He’s just wiped out,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr before the loss to the Magic. “He’s been going at it hard every game.”

The addition of Demarcus Cousins for a mere $5.3 million for this season was a stroke of genius by general manager Bob Myers and head coach Steve Kerr as Cousins was injured and generally no team in the league wanted to take him after his injury which superseded any of his moody behaviors.

Cousins has played in 14 games and was unavailable in the loss to Miami as he continues his recovery from an Achilles injury.

“I am feeling more comfortable and my rhythm is coming along,” said Cousins. “It’s just a matter of time until I get into the swing of things. I am taking it all a game at a time.”

Cousins is moving forward with his agility as he displayed some amazing dribble moves from the top of the key. He got to the basket at will, scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 boards while playing nearly 32 minutes.

Kerr is giving Cousins the ball on the perimeter and empowering him with a point-forward mentality.  Cousins, who is averaging 3.5 assists, changes the matchups on the perimeter and allows Curry and Klay Thompson to work guard mismatches in the paint as well as one-on-one options on the perimeter.

Those who try to poke holes in the team by saying that the dynasty is over need to analyze the impact of players who are resting, injured or unavailable on any given night.

Golden State has lost four of its last six games, but Kerr has been giving needed minutes to potential role players in Alfonzo McKinnie, Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney among others, while wily vets rest and recuperate.

Golden State, though, is 43-19 and currently lead the Nuggets by percentage points for the top of position in the Western Conference. A fourth world championship in five years (should be a potential fifth in a row, but we won’t go there about how the league saved one for LeBron James three years ago) is all but a given.

The key for the Warriors is ironing out the kinks as they experienced a free fall in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s 103-96 loss to the Orlando Magic which held Golden State to 7-of-22 from the field and a lone Steph Curry three-point field goal in the fourth quarter.

The Magic shot 57.1 percent from the field in erasing a 13-point deficit by outscoring the Warriors, 33-15, in the fourth quarter. After Curry hit a triple to put Golden State ahead, 94-89, with 3:07 remaining, Orlando closed on a 14-2 run which saw Aaron Gordon give the Magic the lead for good at 95-94 on a triple with 1:40 left in the game.

“I thought we had open looks,” said Kerr. “Steph is in there beating himself up because he had some open looks that wouldn’t go. I thought Orlando did a better job executing down the stretch than we did.”

In a world where sports, in general, are now overanalyzed and talking heads and media types try to find all the dents in the armor of teams, much will be made over the Warriors buzzer-beating loss in Miami on Wednesday before the late fourth quarter meltdown on Thursday.